Parameters of electrolyte transport in single sweat glands in normal subjects and cystic fibrosis (CF) patients were monitored and compared. Results indicate that in both normal and CF sweat ducts, Na+ is reabsorbed by an active process in which Cl- follows passively while K+ is secreted. However, while net NaCl reabsorption is markedly lower, the electrical potential associated with sweat emerging from the sweat duct is significantly more negative in CF than in normal subjects. Comparison of the differences in apparent electrochemical potential experienced by ions in the sweat duct during secretion indicates that Na+ is held out of the lumen of both groups of ducts against a large but similar gradient, but that Cl- is held in the CF duct against a much larger gradient than in the normal duct. These results indicate that the mechanism for Na+ reabsorption is not inhibited in the CF duct, but that the decreased NaCl transport in the defective duct is due to an abnormally low permeability to Cl-. Analysis of the electrical potential as a function of the Cl- gradient in the sweat suggests that the normal and defective route of Cl- uptake may be transcellular.